When it comes to cafes, word of mouth is a very powerful tool. Good word of mouth, before you’ve even opened, allows you to embed you café deep in a suburb, rather than jostling with the rest of the gun baristas for custom on the main drag. Hell, you can even start your own hub of hipness in a post-industrial wasteland.
It also ensures a good mix of truly local customers and those who are willing to really look for their next caffeine hit. A counterintuitive business strategy, but one which has been well established – make your product accessible, but not *too* convenient. Put your small bar down an allyway or behind a suit shop. Plant your flagship Aussie donut store in Penrith. Make your customers hunt around a bit. The rest is history.
So to say that Excelsior Jones is off the beaten path/in an unexpected place/not where you’d think would be a tad misleading. It’s exactly where you’d think- in a suburb crying out for a good café, and I’m betting there’ll be plenty more where this came from.
On Excelsior Jones’ second day of trade the place is packed with the caffeine-iratti, should such a thing exist, plus food bloggers/writers and curious locals. My companion and I order a pair of macchs and some toast. The cups are prewarmed (always a good sign) and I like the diy butter and veg for the toast – you never know what ratio a customer’s gonna want on their sourdough. Jones’ houseblend of five senses coffee goes down a treat with just a splash of milk – a bright flavour settling across the roof of the mouth, with a pleasant kick to follow.
The decor is warm minimalist, the colour scheme painstakingly well thought out. Everything is wood, warm grey, chocolate brown and white; even the cups, salt and pepper shakers and upcycled sugar jars harmonise, without being matchy-matchy. The whole place has a matt patina, loads of light and bare walls. It’s as beautiful as it is uplifting.
My second visit is just over a week later with two friends for an early public holiday Monday brekky. As I wait for my mates I sip away at my macch and browse the menu. This seems to be the family shift, mums, dads and under sevens, and a sprinkling of couples. The place is really loud, kind of a given with high ceilings, wooden floors, huge windows and small children. Once we’re a table of three we can barely hear each other speak. It’s something to keep in mind when timing your visit.
Menu-wise, there’s nothing over $16, but it is worth noting that servings aren’t huge. Between us we order the delectable sourdough pikelets (there are three), a fruit salad of poached and fresh summer fruits, a daub of yogurt and a pinch of oats, and eggs benny. Overall they are quality, simple breakfasts, what you’d expect but done with finesse. Sides aren’t cheap though, and you may need a few if you have a big breakfast appetite. Lucky for me, my usual gripe with brekky is that it leaves me too full, so I’m happy with the portion size.
The menu also includes lunch (which begins at noon) of two sambos, two salads, one cheeseburger and a pasta, as well as fries, and nuggets and chips for the kiddiewinks. The lunches that have been cluttering up my instagram feed appear simple and well presented.
I found the service to be relaxed, friendly and switched on. Staff were attentive, personable, and all-round lovely. There is strong attention to detail in everything these guys do, and I hope this continues. It would be an ideal setting for a bit of coffee gadgetry, and maybe a bit of experimentation menu-wise. Well-executed classics aside, I’d love to see these guys really get creative.
139a Queen Street, Ashfield NSW 2131
02 9799 3240
Tuesday – Friday 7:30am – 4:00pm
Weekends 8:00am – 4:00pm
I fear that Canberra, much like Sydney, is in serious danger of burning through its allocation of milk crates. Not because of the popularity of milk, but rather because they serve as seating for the crop of on-trend cafés popping up in old (but not in a retro way) shopfronts all over town. I love/hate this trend for numerous reasons. Milk crates are fine to sit on (with cushioning); they serve as a signal to customers, ‘take this coffee joint seriously’. But while they look incidental, in an ‘oh we were just SO BUSY making GROUNDBREAKING espresso we forgot to buy chairs!’ kind of a way, they are entirely deliberate. This is why there’s a countrywide shortage. I assume.
Red Brick espresso is no exception. Milk crates are scattered plentifully out the front of this Curtin café, and they’ve taken it to another level with the accompanying tables, made of bread crates. I hope there’s not a delivery guy out Fyshwick way somewhere going broke for lack of crates.
We stand at the counter for a while waiting to order, staff seem a little harried so we wait as they hand out the takeaways. We order coffee and seat ourselves in the unmistakeably Canberran, light-filled and cleverly renovated space, which, as we’re in the southside of Canberra, could’ve been anything in a past life- a house, a pharmacy, or a sex shop – all roads lead to rectangular brick structures. The guys behind the espresso machine look like they know what’s what – they roast their own coffee here, and are well and truly the third wave.
The coffee arrives. One of our piccolos is spilled a bit and the young waitress runs and grabs us a serviette. How about a fresh saucer? The spillage is hardly her fault though, the piccolos are almost flat white flat. My macch is cool, as are all the coffees, and nothing about the flavour grabs me. It’s fine, I can’t fault the method on my macch (other than the temperature, and I’m not a hot coffee drinker), so maybe this blend just isn’t for me.
The Red Brick Espresso Hombres were recently quoted in Cafe Culture as saying “We looked at what’s happening elsewhere and said, ‘why can’t we do it here?’ Red Brick ticks all the boxes and, if I lived in this neck of the woods, I’d be here daily. But no matter how many milk crates you give someone to sit on or whether you roast your own beans, it all goes to crap when a teenage girl spills your latte. And for the record, I’ve been back since, the coffee was still lukewarm, and I’ve heard the same from others. But I guess if I was from New York and came to visit my mates in Surry Hills, I’d feel like the café culture here is just a watered down version of what’s going on back home. For all I know the Williamsberg peeps are sitting on upturned shopping trolleys these days. I pray that trend doesn’t make it here.
Red Brick Espresso
4/35 Curtin Place, Curtin ACT 2605
02 6285 1668
Monday-Friday 7:30am – 4:30pm
Saturday 7:30am – 4:00pm
Sundays 7:00am – 2:00pm
Time was if I told someone I lives in Alexandria, I’d have to explain where it was. Usually I’d just say Redfern. More recently, mention Alexandria and you conjur up images of chic warehouse hotspots like The Grounds or Kitchen by Mike. That’s just dandy, but those are hardly ‘stroll-in-for-a-quick-coffee’ joints.
So it is with a touch of trepidation I begin this post on The Rag Land, a new cafe on Raglan street in Waterloo which is relatively unknown. A couple of weeks ago they liked me on facebook and when I saw where they were located, my heart skipped a beat and I liked them back. And when I read that they serve Golden Cobra Coffee, of which I am a fan, I was extra psyched to give them a go.
I popped in on a weekday morning for a rich strong macchiato and a spot of eavesdropping. I was only one of three customers, the other two ladies were super excited to quiz the owner on his new business and tell him all about the area. They seemed pretty happy to have a cafe nearby and I have to say that after 8 years living in the ‘hood I tend to agree. It’s good to have another solid local business in the area.
An old Polish deli, the place has been kitted out with secondhand/upcycled/repurposed goods, most of which are for sale. Its really the first business of this type in the immediate area, the nearest cafes being up the road on Regent Street. The space looks like what it is – an old shop that’s been whitewashed and adorned with bric a brac. I’ve been by twice now and both times have been good, if a tad awkward in that we’re-a-new-business kinda way.
Owners Dave and Laura, previously of Dj Espresso have put together a solid menu of breakkies and sambos which I think is priced well for the area. There’s plenty of Pork Belly, which they hope to make their ‘thing’. I’ve had a few coffees there and some delicious smashed eggs, a generous portion of sourdough slices laden with boiled eggs, avo and parsley-heavy salsa. I have to say I’m impressed.
The Rag Land
129 Raglan St,Waterloo NSW 2017
Working a three day week has so many benefits, I can’t count them on both my hands. One of my favourite things about it is I get to go to cafes at non-peak times, soak up the atmosphere and have a couple of leisurely coffees. No matter how much fun that is though, it’s always better to have someone to share it with, to revel in it like a kid wagging school. That’s why I’m glad I got to check out Cowbell with my mate Elise of beauty blog Stuff That I Bought. What’s more, she told me her idea for The Potluck Club, so it was a pretty mach a business meeting, yeah?
The Cowbell 808 menu is a 1-pager, listing 13 items. Its a fusion of ingredients and cuisines, served up cafe style, presenting a mish mash of meal times. It’s not the usual suspects ingredients-wise, although weirdly, its what you’d expect. House made is the word du jour; these guys make everything from their own yogurt, to their own bacon. Now that’s hardcore.
Ticking off at least 2 of the 5 big Sydney trends this year, the menu also has a slight ‘americana’ influence. Case in point, fried chicken with ‘slaw, and my dining companion’s order of fat stacked ricotta hotcakes with marscarpone, bacon maple ice cream and espresso syrup. I like that they don’t separate things based on time of day – if you want to have a burger for breakfast, or a Banancolada (house made coconut yogurt with roast banana and lime), feel free. Elise declares her hotcakes delicious but super filling – she eats about half.
I’m well and truly past my one-coffee-a-day limit, ordering two macchs from the list of ‘liquid vices’ (and I had an espresso before I left home…) I’m impressed, but far too lazy to check something basic like what coffee these guys use. It’s an organic house blend, but I’m not sure if they roast it themselves or have someone do it for them. That would be because I don’t much care what coffee is used, as long as its good. Anyone who knows let me know, it seems like the kind of fact I should have on hand.
I’m not sure why there’s a basketball hoop, a graffitti mural or a disco ball in the cafe. Sure, it fits with the 80’s/music theme, but I’m not convinced it makes for a cohesive aesthetic. The rest- second hand furniture, scrabble letters spelling out the coffee menu, the huge windows flooding the room with light, the selectively exposed brick- I love.
We checked out Cowbell 808 on a Monday morning, so we weren’t faced with the hideous crowds that swamped the newly opened, Short Black-mentioned cafe in the previous couple of days. The service was beyond lovely and not pushy – the people working there were so attentive and generally, dare I say it, caring. And they didn’t even blink when I started snapping away, which is excellent, because I always feel awkward doing so. Word on the street (not sure which street, but there you go) is that the weekend experience is a lot less fun. What can I say, chuck a sickie. It’s worth it for the hotcakes and the rich, creamy macchs on offer. I will be back, if only to try the sundae.
616 Bourke Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9698 5044
Open 7 days
7:00am – 4:00pm
We don’t often have house guests as we live in a 1 bedder, but I always enjoy it when people come to stay. Last weekend I had the pleasure of hosting little bro 1 and his wife, up from Melbourne for a few days, and since little bro 2 lives in my hood now, it’s a weekend I’m dubbing ‘Sydney Quinns’. My mum made an appearance as well, although she’s no Quinn. It’s nice to be surrounded by family, I’m always surprised by how much I miss them. Guess you never grow out of that.
The only thing requested by little bro 1 (besides a trip to the dip, which I thought was open Mondays but was very much mistaken) was a decent breakky. We decided on a Monday morning breakfast and I was thinking Bang Bang, but Le Monde was on the way and had been on my neverending to-try list for almost a year. I’m freaking out a bit now not only at the size of the list but at the number of places that close down before I get to try them. The menu looked good and I’d heard tell of excellent coffee so in we went. Cross that one of the list and add ten more…
We ordered coffee and got perusing. There’s a paper menu and a blackboard specials menu, with plenty to choose from all round. Le Monde have been serving 5 Senses coffee since 2008 and we were all impressed with the depth of flavour our various brews imparted – from my macch to bro’s strong latte to SIL’s skim latte, we couldn’t fault the coffee, and it was pretty busy too. These guys have a well-deserved rep- this coffee is much more than solid – well-rounded flavour, smooth texture, perfect temperature- it wasn’t a cup of coffee your taste buds needed to consider. The flavour just makes sense to your mouth.
There’s a little bench with magazines and bar stools if you’re waiting for a takeaway or a table, and although it’s dimly lit, it’s cleverly lit, resulting in the kind of lazy afternoon light (at 10:00am?) where you can see the little dust particles flit through the air and every meal and drink miraculously becomes photogenic. It’s all warm, dark wood and sophisticated touches, classic rather than trendy or kitch- you can tell this place has been here a while (in Sydney/Surry Hills café time) and will continue to do so.
Little bro gets the bacon an egg sambo, which is generous, and SIL goes for the english muffin with basil scrambled eggs and adds spinach. I go all out and grab the haloumi and zucchini fritters, which are gorgeously soft but not undercooked, with a slightly overdone poached egg, rocket and avocado salsa. Everything is tasty and no one leaves feeling like they can’t face the walk into the city for fear of tripping over their full stomach. But its the coffee that’s really the star here.
Le Monde Café
83 Foveaux Street
Surry Hills NSW 2012
02 9211 3568
Monday to Friday 6:30am – 4pm
Saturday 7:30am – 2pm
I got an email about a month ago with the subject heading ‘Blast from the Buenos Aires past’. It was from a friend I’d made in Argentina nearly four years ago. We’d spent a week together trawling through markets and drinking 1 litre beers. Weirdly, she was from Adelaide, but now she was writing to tell me she’d moved to Sydney. We arranged to meet for (what else) coffee with her delightful beau and Canberra Caffeine-o-phile Barrister Barista (aka @canberrachino).
The four of us met at Surry Hills’ Bang Bang Espresso, which had been on my to-blog list for at least a year. Funnily enough, former DJ Alan Thompson started Bang Bang in 2009, exactly when my pal and I had been traipsing all over BA without a decent coffee in sight. An email from Alan inviting me round to the cafe for a free meal which I, dripping with reluctant integrity, turned down, served as a reminder not to leave Bang Bang on the list for much longer.
I sat outside as inside was full up but I didn’t mind as I prefer quiet and am not much for communal tables. I ordered a macch, which promptly arrived as did water, glasses and napkins. I didn’t identify myself as a blogger, so this was not special treatment.
As I wait for my chums I peruse the menu, which is massive, and about ¾ of it is breakfast. There’s a definite UK spin on things with welsh rarebit, english breakfast, scottish breakfast and a ‘posh fish finger sandwich’ on offer. I’m tempted by the corn fritters (1 kind for breakky, another for lunch) but in the end I settle on a pulled pork sandwich.The other three order a couple of nutso triple cheese burgers (the real name of the burger is is more ridic than that) on wholemeal (WTF?) and a lamb burger, also on wholemeal. Theirs come with crisps and mine comes with nothing, which is excellent because it’s *huge*. I didn’t photograph the food as we were too busy gossiping and stuffing out faces.
We were all happy with the coffee, lattes were a tad flat but that doesn’t phase me as I didn’t order them. The gorgeous flat white, as described by Barrister Barrista was:
Ok, so we went to a breakky joint and ordered sambos. Idiots. They were pretty good, but we all agreed thet were a little heavy handed with the condiments. I think I expected my pulled pork a tad spicy, but I did like the green apple slaw and the sonoma bread was good and fresh. Everything was reasonably priced and generously portioned. I will return to scoff down some breakky, no doubt. Good service, great coffee, solid food, I can see why this place has lasted so long (in Surry Hills fringe years). And Alan was very patient with me photographing the hell out of his cafe after it was technically closed.
Bangbang Espresso Bar and Cafe
113 Reservoir Street
Surry Hills NSW 2012
02 9281 0018
I must admit to being super jealous of the worker bees who dwell up York Street way. It’s a coffee bonanza in that part of town, and even though I’m not far away, crossing those few major roads seems to take forever for a quick coffee break. No doubt a smart Lau would grab a leisurely coffee on her way to work. She should also desist from talking about herself in the third person. So that’s what I did sometime last week when my honey and I headed to Double Barrel for a cheeky coffee.
Double Barrel Coffee is between York St and York Lane (the lane, not the small bar of the same name), not even a full block south of Wynyard train station, near the newly-opened Palomino Espresso you’ve all heard so much about.
It’s cute, it’s popular, it’s on trend, it’s everything you kinda get annoyed by and yet are inexplicably drawn to. They’ve got rueben and a pulled pork sandwiches, tasty little bakery treats on offer and they use Melbourne’s 7 Seeds coffee.
Trucking coffee from Melbourne to Sydney makes zero sense to me, but my picture-perfect macch and my sweetheart’s picollo make all the sens in the world. I slather some sourdough with jam for a breakfast I am quite reluctant to describe as old school – I prefer to call it ‘toast with jam’.
I’m happy with the coffee, the toast, the service, the aesthetic (don’t act like it doesn’t matter) and the fact that we’re the only ones not getting takeaways (because we’re such rebels – 8:30am and we ain’t even thinking about rushing off to work). I’d be likely to return if York Street and surrounds weren’t so packed with ace little coffee joints just begging for me to taste their wares. But it is, no doubt I’ll be blogging them soon.
Double Barrel Coffee
33 York Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Monday – Friday
6:30 am – 5:00pm
Well, aren’t I a lucky little caffeine addict. Truly spoiled for coffee choice in my neck of the woods, I often find I’m a tad blasé about what’s on offer. So it’s always a nice surprise to venture out of this sprawling city of Sydney a little further afield and find a brilliant coffee spot. Whaddya know kids? The world doesn’t begin and end with Sydney.
I can’t help but think the common threads among the cafés I love- vintage furniture, bearded baristas, bikes on the wall are kind of the hipster’s equivalent of going to Paris and only eating at McDonalds. These cafés are familiar, non-threatening. I know what to expect from them. They’re a genre, a brand if you will. And I’m pretty brand-loyal these days. Whether this is a good or a bad thing, I’m not sure.
Anyway, I’ve checked out Rolador in Hamilton a few times now, and I have to say I’m impressed. Like many great things in my life, it was my gorgeous boyfriend’s idea, as was this post. There is indeed a roller door on one side (facing the station) serving takeaways, with a bunch of benches, tables and chairs scattered around. Inside it’s all eames-era vinyl chairs and kitsch knick knacks, but we find ourselves a seat outside and it’s not long before someone comes over to take our order.
Perched on a sun-drenched corner, seconds from Hamilton station and open seven days a week, I find myself wishing Rolador were my local. Friendly staff, retro touches, good coffee and home-baked treats, even Mexican tapas, whatever the hell that is, at night sometimes. And I love a café where you can literally see you train pull up.
We weren’t catching a train that day, but if we were I’d be willing to miss it for this oh-so-lemony lemon muffin we chose, which was more like cake really. We bantered back and forth with the waiter about what qualifies as cake. My macch was no slouch either, and my man pronounced his piccollo a success.
It was so pleasant in the sun we sat for some time, spreading butter from our laksa spoon on our lemon cake/muffin and sipping coffee in a reasonably sophisticated manner. I even refrained from dunking the cake in my coffee.
If I lived in Newcastle, I’d be pretty happy with this place. The coffee is good, they offer a decent spread of homemade-looking (in a good way) cakes etc. on the counter, the menu looks solid, and the vibe was relaxed, friendly, and not the least bit pretentious. We’ll be back.
1 Beaumont Street
Hamilton, NSW 2303
02 4969 1786
A recommendation from a friend is always handy to have, but sometimes a recommendation from a stranger is even better. Since I started Corridor Kitchen I’ve had so many great suggestions from friends, co-bloggers and readers as to where to find great coffee and food, I can’t keep up! My urbanspoon wishlist currently totals 197 to-try places! But keep ‘em coming, I say.
Kaye emailed me a while ago and suggested I check out PS Cafe in Dulwich Hill. It’s right by the train station, which is always a good thing for a non-driver like myself, but my sweet Signor R chauffeured me nonetheless. It’s an unassuming little corner place, like many in the inner west, part of a clump of local shops near a train station. A bit like Paper Cup in Stanmore or Cornersmith in Marrickville.
We arrive bright and early one Saturday morning at this cute little corner cafe with equally cute staff, who take our coffee order while we wait for the other half of our party. If a bicycle on the wall signals a coffee mecca, Senhor R muses, this place must do pretty good coffee- there’s vintage scooter parked inside! It’s secondhand furniture wall-to-wall (pro tip – cheaper in Dulwich than Surry Hills) and quirky knick knacks abound. It’s a little chilly with the doors left open, but there you go.
A glance at the menu reveals the usual breakky and lunch fare, but with a greek twist, loukanikos (Greek pork sausages), vanilla submarines and haloumi being examples. I hear almost everything is made in house, from the cakes to the jams and sauces to the sausages. Impressive.
Our chums arrive and we get ordering. Today’s house-made chipolatas are described as ‘quite spicy’, so that gets ordered, along with a bacon and egg roll with aioli and various combos of eggs, toast and sides, including the kumera and basil hash, which is more like mashed kumera which is then pan fried, but who’s complaining?
What I like about the breakfast is they’ve set it up very design-your-own – the guts of the breakky menu is free range eggs with your choice of toast (sourdough, soy and linseed or rye) and then there are 12 different sides to choose from. It’s all very reasonably priced. None of the food blows anyone’s mind, but the servings are generous and the service is good.
Man, this place is strong on coffee. It is strong a dark-tasting, but not overwhelming- it feels like the flavour coats your whole tongue. I’d describe the flavour as very solid and cohesive, if that makes sense – there are layers, but they are tightly grouped. I like it so much I order a second macch. Caffé deluca, who would’ve thunk?
245 Wardell Road
Dulwich Hill NSW 2203
0403 412 860
Open 7 Days for breakfast and lunch
Sydney CBD cafés usually have a very different feel from those on the city fringe. Your Petty Cash Cafés, you Belljars don’t really exude the same frantic, grab-your-latte-and-raisin-toast-and-run vibe that you get at somewhere like, say, Vella Nero. This is changing, or maybe I’m just paying closer attention. In any case the York Street hub, with the likes of the quirky Shirt Bar and the laneway haven York Lane is a pretty awesome place to be grabbing your coffees and lunches these days.
Palomino Espresso is the newest addition to the area. A few blocks south of Wynyard Station, nextdoor to Stitch, I literally walked straight past it on its second day of trading. And I was actually looking for it. It was only because I was looking for number 61 and the numbers were higher than that that I turned around and had a second look.
I ordered my macch and sat looking out onto the street, and almost every person who walked past did a double take. It wasn’t so much a case of ‘wow, a new café’ as it was ‘how long has that place been open?’. That’s because Palomino Espresso looks like it’s been part of the furniture for yonks. And the service wasn’t very ‘we’ve only been open for two days’ either. If they hadn’t mentioned that fact so many times, I doubt anyone would’ve noticed they’re the NKOTB.
As per usual, I just had coffee. It was good, not particularly photogenic but a nutty, vanilla-y sort of flavour. I was tempted by something that looked suspiciously like a butterfly cake, or at any rate, some variety of cupcake heavy with whipped cream. The breakkies are a bit more city fringe than dine-and-dash – I saw house baked beans and eggs benny on offer, and tons of homemade-looking baked treats. These guys serve Morgans Handcrafted Coffee, the day I went they had two choices, one of which was a Brazilian Single Origin, if that’s what floats your boat. They do cold drip and for soy addicts, it’s bonsoy all the way.
The decor is a tad quirky, with wild west themed knick knacks (there’s a horse figurine inside the espresso machine). To me, it looks like the kind of cafe you’d find in Glebe, I’m not sure why. The high ceilings mean plenty of glass street frontage, there’s enough seating and the staff seem really friendly. I am unsure of their opening hours but I am going to find out. I will be back.
1/61 York Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Monday-Friday 7:00am – 4:00pm
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Disclaimer:All opinions in this blog are mine, an everyday, real-life person. I do not accept payment for reviews and nor do I write sponsored posts. I do not endorse the content of the comments herein. From time to time I give away products and experiences to my readers, all competitions have completely arbitrary rules, all decisions are final and all prizes awarded as I see fit.